Rolling down Da Nile
The 2009 Follies: Smut and satire triumph again

Brandon Hoskins, Gerald VanStroh, Sarah Slaughter and Jennifer Tatum spin the wheel in “Boozin’ on de Nile” during last Thursday’s Snowdown Follies dress rehearsal. The annual lampoon of local culture returns on Jan. 29-31 with sold-out performances at the Henry Strater Theatre and the Durango Arts Center and a simulcast at the Abbey Theatre./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

by Judith Reynolds

Should the Follies be previewed? Probably not. Reviewed? Never. But here goes, anyway. Before the Jan. 29 gala premiere, a few beleaguered souls have been allowed to attend either a dress rehearsal or the infamous Media Night. Either way, it’s a rough go. But somebody has to do it.

This week, the 26th annual Snowdown Follies returns for another night of entertainment. The promoters keep billing the show as a “notoriously irreverent review,” and that’s the plan.

At the first dress rehearsal, you could guess what each act was aiming for, but the fog was pretty thick. You could tell what choreographer Suzy Di Santo had in mind. You could sense intention in sound and light effects even if spots fell on empty spaces. You could guess the names of politically hot locals even if some names got scrambled. City Councilor and current Mayor Renee Parsons took a number of smacks. School Board member Paddy Lynch got more, and former City Manager Bob Ledger got credit for the condition of one mistress-of-ceremonies.

When a Fort Lewis College professor comes out on stage looking like a middle-aged Cleopatra with a clear, late-stage pregnancy, it gets your attention. When your stockbroker ambles on as Moses carrying a fresh list of the 10 Commandments, you listen up.

Erstwhile professor at the Fort and Pueblo Community College, Katherine Burgess makes a good foil for financial guru Tim Maher’s Moses. How much of a stretch is it for Maher to leap back in time when in previous outings he has appeared as George W. himself and before that as John Travolta.? On the other hand, Burgess as Isis, the goddess of fertility, is a stretch. She enters in a way-too-pretty Egyptian maternity costume. It’s designed for the unexpected pregnancy she unwittingly carries and gives us our first snap at local politics. But I wondered who rented such gorgeous rags? Part of the fun of this mid-winter Bacchanalia is the home-made quality of the humor, the sets, and the costumes.

Well, get used to it. Starting with Isis, you get flowing white robes, golden headdresses, fans, feathers, and pretty slick Pharaoh hats. What happened to cardboard, glue, and toilet paper? Personally, I thought assistant director Terry Shellnut’s bath towel was just about right for the Follies. You wondered how it stayed put and didn’t drop to the floor for a sight gag. Snowdown is getting way too upscale.

But I’m not here to review the costumes; I’m supposed to be commenting on style and content. If Moses and the 10 Commandments don’t rank as content, what does? Maher’s Moses brought out a nice hand-made tablet, thank you, from which he read Durango’s Top 10. Among the best: “Thou shalt worship no other gods than Renee Parsons;” “Thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain unless you’re stuck behind some ___ from New Mexico.” And one positive commandment:” Thou shall consider wearing a clean fleece as being dressed up”. Now we’re talking the Follies.

Not to give anything away, here are some other high (or low) lights in the 2009 edition:

- Egyptian Idol. You’ll have to guess what golden object Durangoans worship in this spoof on our love affair with the out of doors. Doug Wright, John Staaten, Amanda Valdez and a bunch of slinky belly dancers make it clear.

- See yah in 2012. Just when I thought there wouldn’t be any mention of the national elections, the Voice of God rang up W and the Queen of Confidence came back – the Mighty Sarah of Alaska channeled by look-alike Rebecca Gilbert. Moses didn’t forget Hillary, either.

- Bag Lady. What’s with the Devon Rea fan club? They were out in full force for his deadpan solo. Worth every cheer.

Follies MC Lisa Zwisler strikes a pose at the Henry Strater last Thursday. More than 18 skits are on tap for the 26th annual performance./Photo by Stephen Eginoire

- A Taste of Tease. After the MC’s seared the regulars who write the letters to the editor, you know who they are, a slick little strip tease followed. Suzy Di Santo’s choreography was way too sophisticated for this act, but the punch line was pure Snowdown.

- Egyptian Kings. The Zink guys plus Dan Imming and Paul Gibson mimed a Durango anthem: Let’s Go Smoke Some Pot, to bring the first act to a close. The audience cheered wildly.

Part II. The other half of this year’s follies sailed in on director Don Doane’s voice over, warning us that “something lies beneath.” Time and the Nile, presumably. Mid-winter craziness. Amateur talent, for sure.

A red-draped chorus line vamped through an opener with two dancing mummies. I could make out the venerable and reliably silly Roc Simmons as one. The other pair of MC’s followed. Lisa Zwisler, Durango’s salty, seen-it-all comic maven, joined forces and Sandra Shellnut, the woman married to the bath towel, ushered in the other half of the 2009 Follies.

When Zwisler opens with her version of “I Will Survive,” she’s really singing about that old admonition: size matters. So be prepared, this half of the evening is relatively low on politics, local and otherwise, and high on smut. Pick your poison.

Durango’s potholes take a shot in “Nothing Better to Do,” and “Bored, Tubby and Mild” takes a swipe at the seniors who populate the Rec Center.

There’s a salute to America’s new Pharaoh, Barack Obama, with a cheerleading rendition of “A Leader Named Barack.” At the first rehearsal, it was the only number that was truly performance ready, so look for a snappy rendition from Peg Ochsenreiter, Linda Mannix, Janie Wilson and Candye Sauer.

“Boozin’ on Denile” may well be the most inventive act. Tubing down the Animas, two drinkers get arrested for boozing. Somehow, that morphs into a game, the Wheel of Consequences, and it’s just so crazy it could only have been hatched after more than a few beers. Credit Brandon Hoskins, Gerald Vonstroh, Kelly Bowman, and Sarah Slaughter for the nonsense.

Last but certainly not the least, Jeff Rae brings down the house with “Put Your Clothes On and Git on Home.” You have to see and hear it to get it.

By the way, Zwisler and Shellnut have costumes to outshine Burgess’ maternity wear. And Maher makes a fine Moses with a big head of gray hair and a real beard. Now that’s dedication. •



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